While our football and men's basketball teams were busy making this a November to remember that nobody probably will remember in a year, our other sports teams were doing some winning and losing of their own. The volleyball team saw its postseason aspirations likely end, with two crushing losses, while women's basketball prepares for two upcoming tough games against top-25 foes, and the wrestling, fencing and swimming teams continued strong starts to their seasons.
Women's Basketball: Our 3-0 Wildcats had the weekend off from competition, but tomorrow, they travel to Baton Rouge for a difficult game against No. 20 LSU, a powerhouse program. Then on Sunday, NU will host No. 23 DePaul, always a tough cross-city rival.
The Wildcats are getting balanced output from their starting lineup, with forward Kendall Hackney leading the team with 16.3 ppg and center Dannielle Diamant averaging 12.7 ppg and 8.3 rpg. Point guard Karly Roser was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week for her performances last week, including a double-double (12 points, 10 assists) against Western Kentucky and 13 assists against Illinois State. The game against LSU should also be the much-anticipated debut of transfer center Anna Cole, who's been battling injuries in the early going. She'll provide much-needed depth on the front court.
LSU (2-1), picked to finish fourth in the loaded SEC, is led by senior All-American center LaSondra Barrett, who averages 12.7 ppg, but the Tigers are coming off an OT loss to Tulane on Saturday. LSU hosts Arkansas-Pine Bluff tonight, so we'll be catching them on the second night of back-to-back games. The Tigers, under first-year head coach Nikki Caldwell, run an up-tempo attack, and it'll be interesting to see how our blizzard press defense keeps up. Hopefully LSU's legs will be a bit tired. Last year, NU beat LSU in both teams' season opener, 71-62, at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
DePaul (4-1) this past weekend took second place in the Jack-in-the-Box Rainbow Wahine Classic in Honolulu. It is not entirely clear to me how they finished second. They lost their first round game to San Diego State and then won their final two games, including the final against host Honolulu. Somehow that adds up to second place. Anyway, DePaul, picked to finish sixth in the Big East, is led by junior center Anna Martin (21.0 ppg) and junior guard Keisha Hampton (17.0 ppg). The Blue Demons have made the NCAA tournament nine years in a row. Last year, they defeated NU, 76-72.
Volleyball: So close, and then again, so close. On Friday, the Wildcats very nearly upset No. 23 Michigan on the road, losing 15-11 in the fifth set. Then on Saturday, NU went to five sets again, this time against Michigan State, losing in the fifth set, 15-12.
The tough losses dropped NU to 15-14 overall, 6-12 in conference. With just two matches left, against No. 7 Illinois on Wednesday and No. 2 Nebraska on Saturday, the Wildcats will be left outside the NCAA tournament field of 64. NU's RPI sat at 77 before this past weekend's losses, and even if they do manage to upset two top-10 teams, I don't think the RPI will move up enough to get the Wildcats in.
Sophomore hitter Stephanie Holtus continued her strong play throughout the weekend, with 22 kills against MSU and 20 kills against Michigan. Junior libero Julie Chin became the 13th player in NU history to record 1,000 career digs, surpassing that milestone against Michigan. Freshman hitter Yewande Akanbi had a career-high 18 kills against MSU and 13 kills against Michigan. This is a young team, and better things will hopefully be on the way, though the Big Ten always is a stacked conference.
Wrestling: NU won the 2011 Keystone Classic in Philadelphia on Sunday, easily besting an 11-team field. Levi Mele (125 pounds) won his second meet title this year, improving to 10-0 on the season. Lee Munster (174 pounds) and Mike McMullan (heavyweight) finished second in their classes, while Jameson Oster (133 pounds) and Kaleb Friedley (149 pounds) finished third.
The team is off until hosting the NU Duals on Dec. 11, but junior Jason Welch (157 pounds) is competing today in the NWCA All-Star Classic in Tempe, Ariz.
Fencing: The Wildcats finished their fall schedule, composed of individual tournaments, at the Garret Open in University Park, Pa., placing five fencers in the top 16 of each weapon. Foilist Davana Sarkisova had the top NU finish, placing ninth out of 50 fencers in her weapon. Sabrist Chloe Grainger finished 13th out of 42. NU opens up their team dual season on January 7.
Swimming and Diving: The women's team easily won the team title at the TYR Invitational at SPAC, with 866 points, 168 points ahead of second-place Illinois. Meanwhile, the men's team took second at the same event with 981 points, 25 behind winner Missouri State. NU's individual winners in each event are way too numerous to list here.
The women's team is off until its winter break training trip to the USA Swimming Olympic Training Facility in Colorado Springs, while the men are off until their winter break trip to Hawaii.
Field Hockey: Just a quick note about junior Chelsea Armstrong, who was named this past week a first-team All-American. Armstrong, who may not return for her senior year, is NU's first first-teamer since 1995. She racked up 25 goals to lead the Big Ten, and her career total of 173 points and 71 goals are NU records.